What is most interesting and essential about Dark Angels of Darkness is Al Gofa’s line. From the opening shot of two leather-clad superwarriors in final embrace to the last panel of a puppy frolicking in the aftermath of a devastating battle, Gofa’s line is as supple and controlled as it needs to be. That first shot is worth lingering on. The reader doesn’t know anything about what’s happening, who these folk are, or certainly why a book with such an action-packed premise is beginning with such a tender scene. But Gofa’s line communicates tension alongside tenderness here. Instead of clean spotted blacks his lines are tense and careworn. Muscles are thick and bold, metals smooth and organic. Very Metal Hurlant.
Gofa’s imagery struggles at time to keep pace with his content. There’s a war of some kind being fought by leather-clad superwarriors. The bad guy is a fellow named Imperius Rhâââ who controls access to the fusing technique that forms the cornerstone of military strategy in this corner of the universe. It’s not covered why they’re fighting or what the stakes of the conflict are, but these subjects are avoided so assiduously that the exclusion can only be intentional.
(Now, of course, there is the obvious fact that this is a book about magic superwarriors who can “fuse” together into larger warriors that retain the physical and intellectual capacities of the original, but there’s not really a lot to be done with the similarity in this instance other than to point at it, note it in passing, and then conclude by stating that the execution is about as far from Steven Universe as can be imagined. Such is pop culture: nothing new under the sun, especially the observation that there is nothing new under the sun.)
The war has been going on long enough that all the characters know each other and have established relationships. Dark Angels of Darkness is one of a number of recent fantasy books that take the same approach to genre: the settings and premises are straight out of traditional fantasy or sci-fi – you might even call the set-up for something like Dark Angels of Darkness careworn, if you were feeling unkind. But the familiarity is kind of the point. The characters are themselves familiar, and they talk with the blunted clipped tones of any other self-deprecating action hero in 2018. It’s a neat trick for anyone who wants to draw superwarriors clashing on distant worlds but feels like the stentorian tones of the traditional Kirby or Starlin (or Heinlein or Tolkien) ape just don’t sound right coming out of their characters’ mouths.
So this Imperius Rhâââ fellow has been at it for long enough that he’s starting to lose control of the situation, enough so that his rival Megan (“The greatest military mind that ever existed!”) feels confident enough to “take back what’s ours.” It’s that kind of thing. One of his lieutenants is the espionage master Garo, who must fuse with the human tank Muran to create a superwarrior strong enough to take on Imperius Rhâââ, even in his weakened state. Cue explosions.
And what gorgeous explosions! If you like extensive crosshatching merely for the sake of crosshatching, you will find much to pore over in these pages. One of the book’s strengths is the way it weaves in and out of multiple approaches to action storytelling. Although the overall mood is definitely European – and you can see the Moebius in every long shot where Gofa uses delicate stippling to indicate scale – there are specific instances throughout where he also uses cutaways like American artists would use splash pages. He even swipes a few poses just for effect (either I’m losing my mind or that’s a Wild Thing Nikki Doyle swipe in there, although the former is a definite probably given a long enough time frame). Some of the character designs seem straight out of Morrison & Case’s Doom Patrol, others Tim Vigil. The variety works.
Some of it works better than others. Some sequences could read more clearly: the dog who shows up late in the story is cute but those passages are also legitimately confusing. Although there are some breathtaking images – such as that first page, or a full page close-up of “Ultra Upset Imperius Rhâââ” later in the volume that could seriously shift units as a black light poster, if people were still interested in such things – there are also stretches of languor where the book struggles to cohere. It’s not a question of worldbuilding or characters, all of which seem fine and well-formed for the material, but simply down to Gofa himself. There’s a lot here and the stuff that works best is the stuff that leans heavily on his drawing skill, which is ample. What doesn’t work are some of the more ambitious passages of storytelling, such as the aforementioned bit with the dog, or a handful of confusingly staged brawls throughout.
The good news is that these are, in the scheme of things, small crackers. This is Gofa’s first book, so a bit of dodgy storytelling is to be expected. Lots of really great comics have difficult passages – it comes with the territory, and good cartoonists usually figure it out as they go along. It’s fun to pick out swipes and try to figure out where artists are pulling different effects from. One of comics greatest strengths is just this kind of transparency. Seeing artists like Gofa actually work out the steps of how previous artists have solved similar storytelling challenges, and seeing them discover their own voices based on their leaning into what works and doesn’t work in early expropriations – seeing artists grow up in public like that, page by page, is what makes the medium exciting.
The degree to which Gofa’s style is based on this kind of exploration marks him as a figure of great potential. That the book doesn’t completely cohere isn’t to his discredit because where it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work because it’s trying something its creator has never done before. It’s fun to watch a conscientious artist learn. He’ll get it next time.